Everything In Its Right Place

Today, we welcome a guest post from Brianna at Daily Amos.  In 2010, Brianna's first son George was diagnosed with heart failure caused by supraventricular tachycardia at 24 weeks gestation. Over the next four weeks, the doctors tried to slow his heart rate down with medication. After stopping treatment, Brianna developed Mirror Syndrome and had to have an emergency c-section. George died shortly after birth. --Angie

Sometimes I wish that instead of letting someone else do the job, we had escaped from the hospital, all three of us, and ran away to some place where we could have done it ourselves.  Wrapped him gently in linen and flowers, then set him in a tiny boat adrift and ablaze on the sea.  His body, our hope, and my former self flaming and crackling against a black sky while rolling on the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Instead we flipped through a list of funeral homes given to us at the hospital and made a phone call. Two days later, a stranger collected his body and took it to a sterile and cinderblock constructed factory to be cremated. No ritual. No tenderness. Just business. It was neat, tidy and impersonal when his death was anything but those things. I guess that is what civilized people do these days; we let the men in the suits with the solemn but detached faces handle our dead.

There was a time not too long ago when a woman would wail and weep and throw herself at the body of her dead loved one. She would unabashedly rail against Death's untimely visitation. At some point in time we traded the display of mourning for the "dignity" of silent suffering. When George died, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs but instead I whimpered in the solitude of my bedroom. I felt ashamed to grieve too loudly or too publicly and so George's death wasn't marked so much with an exclamation point as it was with an ellipses.

Pretty early on, we decided against having a memorial service. Family and friends were scattered around the globe and neither of us had the energy to coordinate anything. Making phone calls and working out a date that everyone could make it to seemed like so much more than we could handle. We could barely even organize a trip to the grocery store let alone a memorial service for a well-loved but barely known baby. I remember thinking at the time that there should really be a secular equivalent to a priest or a rabbi, someone with a little more personal investment than a proprietor of a mortuary, to handle things like organizing a funeral service for those of us who don't subscribe to any particular doctrine or religion.

So instead of having a service we quietly picked up the little copper box that held his cremated remains and brought them back home with us, where over the next few months they meandered around the house like Goldilocks.  First on the bedside table, nestled in knitted baby blankets. Too warm. Then inside the bedside table and out of sight. Too cold. A brief stint on the mantle. Too obvious. Some weeks on the shelving unit. Too ordinary. Finally back to the bedroom atop a set of dresser drawers. Just right. Good enough. 

 There on the dresser, next to my jewelry, is where that copper box has spent the last year and a half, accumulating dust.  I know that what is in that box is not my son, whatever made him him was gone long before his physical body was put in the fire.  What hides away in there now, and what I am still frightened to see, are just the remnants of a mineral matrix; calcium phosphate, zinc and potassium.  But even so occasionally when I pick it up to wipe off the weeks of neglect, I feel a stab of guilt.  They deserve more than what I have up until now been able to give to them.

It takes time to gain perspective.  It takes even more time to build action on top of that perspective.  For me, it has taken two years to find the strength to do what I feel like I wished I could have done right away- look upon his death and those ashes without trembling in fear.  Last weekend, on the anniversary of his death, we brought the copper box with us down to a tree-lined stream intent on opening it for the first time and giving some of them up to the cold water.  That his ashes would travel along in the stream, bits of those minerals being taken up by other living things on the way, is as close to believing in life after death as I have ever been able to come.  That he would, in a way, become part of something much bigger than the sum of his parts is as much as I could ask for at this point.

Two years of inactivity made opening the box and gaining access to his ashes as difficult as breaking into a safe.  After multiple attempts and comical -albeit morbid- visions of the lid popping off and ash flying everywhere, we figuratively threw our hands up in the air and gave up.  So for now the copper box, along with some new dents and the entirety of its contents, is back in its place in our bedroom...next to a single dress sock and a receipt for gas.

I'm not sure when or where we will be ready to let go of his ashes again.  My hope is that when it happens, if it happens, it will be peaceful and we finally feel like we found the right place.

Glow in the Woods's section How to Plan a Baby's Funeral shares the different perspectives about how some of our readers and regular contributors handled funerals, cremations, burials, and the planning. This section is a permanent section and intended to be a resource for parents in the hospital. So if you have a moment, please head over and share your perspective there as well.
 What did you do with the remains of your child(ren)?  Did you have a memorial service? Why? Why not? Did you wish you had done something differently? If you have your child(ren)'s ashes, do you think that one day you will ever be able to let them go?